Tuesday 29 October 2002

October 29, 2002

Every year, the weekend after Jamie’s ‘ButtonBox’ weekend, she holds her ‘Big Falls’ trip. Where Buttonbox is a fun, easygoing, weekend filled with socialization – Big Falls is WORK for dogs and humans!

Normally the trip is 120 mile round trip adventure. This year, bad trail conditions forced a change of plans and instead of trekking to Big Falls we headed out to a friend’s place near Marcell, Minnesota, adding an extra 22 miles to the trip.

The stories and adventures from the weekend are many, but I think my favorites involve our passage through the town of Big Fork on the way out and back. On the way out we passed through at around 12:30am. As we were watering dogs by the Big Fork River, the local police officer - Officer Babcock appeared. He chatted with Jamie for quite a while – after all, she is a celebrity in the state and then we ended up getting a police escort through town (not OUT OF – I’d like to make that clear!). Lights flashing he lead the 5 dog teams through town and then as we traveled a few miles along the end of the highway, he tagged along behind to warn oncoming traffic. When we came to the spot where we had to cross over the highway and onto the snowmobile trail, he blocked off the highway (although there was actually no traffic at that time of the morning) and directed up across. How nice!!
On the way home on Sunday afternoon, I felt like I was part of a bad western – you know the ones where the outlaw gang is riding into town and the Mothers are scurrying to get their children into the houses – as our teams threaded their way through streets of town, folks where hustling their dogs into houses and backyards! Too funny!!

The trip was definitely a tough and arduous one, but the team did wonderfully, even though dogs like Grover stayed home! All 5 of the 2 year olds made the trip and did great.  Olena is always one of the first on her feet ready to go!

Now we are doing some shorter runs for this week as I ‘wind’ the team down from the last few weeks of hard work.

All for tonight – despite two days off of running dogs, I’m still pretty tired and can barely keep my eyes open!!


Monday 21 October 2002

October 21, 2002

This past weekend was Jamie’s legendary ‘ButtonBox’ Weekend – held at the beautiful ‘ButtonBox’ Campground on ButtonBox Lake near Togo, Minnesota. 

On Thursday morning a large group (probably about 14 teams) headed out of Jamie’s place – after 8 miles a few of the teams splintered off for a 12 – mile run to the Campground while the remainder of us continued on down the trail. The plan was for us to go out 20 miles to a nice meadow Jamie knows (and where we camped last year) and spend the night. However, within sight of the meadow, we ran into a little snag – it seems that the gully we cross to get there had washed out over the summer and we ended up having to make do camping in a slightly muddy clearing. The dogs didn’t mind much – especially when we cut some pine boughs and made them cozy little beds!!

After setting up camp and getting a meal into humans and dogs we kicked around the campfire for several hours, telling stories and laughing. By the time we headed for bed it was dark, although an almost full moon (somewhat obscured by clouds) made it possible to see. As I was about to crawl into the tent I stopped to take it all in – a spot by a running river, bathed in moonlight; dogs teams nested in the tall grass or snuggled into the pine bough beds; the coals from a warm fire still glowing; headlamps from friends moving around settling themselves in for the night and the fabulous glow of colored tents lit from the inside – how can anyone ever wonder why I choose to live the life I do! 

Young dogs, not yet experienced at camping on the trail made for a fairly short night and restless sleep. With only 3 ‘rookie’ dogs (Olena, Denali, and Nahanni) on my team I was spared having to leap out of my sleeping bag in the middle of the night to check on dogs – and I may have been the only one that lucky!! At 4 am, Jamie and I gave up on sleeping. We restarted the fire from the leftover coals (thank goodness – big, competent distance mushers we are – she had a lighter that was out of fuel and neither of us had matches!) and cooked some leftovers for an early breakfast. As we puttered about discussing race plans for the upcoming season it started to snow. We quickly packed up the tent and our four-wheeler before all our gear got too wet. By 9 am everyone was up, dogs were fed, campsites cleaned up and we were on the way on our 24-mile run to the ButtonBox campground.
I had been very pleased with the way my team had run on Thursday’s run, but Friday’s was even better. Led by Camilla and Orion the team put in a solid run that only heightened my (cautious) excitement about this upcoming race season.

Many more teams, including folks from Michigan, Wisconsin, and even California, were already at the campground when we arrived. Quickly we were settled in and all enjoying a big potluck dinner! 
Almost everyone headed out for a night run after dinner. It was really neat to look over your shoulder and see a long string of lights from headlamps and four – wheelers winding through the trees behind. After about 7 miles, Jamie and I splintered off from the main group and headed back to her place. Our plan was to spend the night there returning early in the morning with teams that included the remaining 9 dogs from our main strings – we didn’t want anyone missing out on the terrific training experience!! We were back just in time the next day to hook up with everyone for a morning run. That night we all got together for another run – this time Jamie and I stayed. The weekend wrapped up with breakfast on Sunday and a nice run back to Jamie’s place.

Today will be a day off for the dogs and then Jamie and I are thinking of doing another overnight trip on Tuesday to check out some trail we hope to use for the ‘Big Falls’ Run next weekend! 
The dogs are all doing very well. The 2 year olds, with perhaps the exception of Kluane are fabulous. Olena, in particular had a BLAST camping!

I do have one bit of dog news that I have been stalling on sharing – Butchie has been cut from the main string. Our very first run here in Togo Jamie commented that 8 year old Butch was looking old. That had never really even occurred to me, but as I watched him through her eyes on the rest of the run – I could see it. His gait is just not as smooth and effortless and it was in past years and he has some trouble keeping up when the speed picks up too much. I talked to Mark and he was not surprised – he said he thought he could see it on runs at home too – seems that I was the only one blinded by sentimentality. Cutting Butchie is the end of an era for me – he was the only dog on my main string that has done ‘it all’. His ‘rookie’ race was the 1996 Race to the Sky. He was dropped that time, but never again – he has completed every race I have. It’s not like he hasn’t left us anything to fill his paw prints – Draco, Orion, Surge, and Squeaky are all main string ‘Sons of Butch’s’ – but I will miss him. Butch is hanging out here and leading some puppy teams for Jamie to keep himself amused for the remainder of our trip – he will do the same for us when he gets back to Alberta. I figure Butch and I have traveled over 10,000 miles together in harness over the years – he has thoroughly earned his retirement. Mark and I hope it is a long one.

All for today!

Thursday 10 October 2002

October 10, 2002

Oh my gosh – where does time go. I’m amazed that it has been over a month since my last diary entry. Shame on me! Lots to report on – in fact, so much that it is going to take me several journal entries to catch up!! I’ll start off with some current stuff!!

On the 30th of September I loaded up the dog truck and headed down to Togo, Minnesota for my annual ‘pilgrimage’ to Jamie Nelson’s place. I won’t bore you all with tales of all Jamie has done for me in helping me grow and develop as a musher – most of you have heard that many times before – but I think this time with her is one of the best things I can do for myself and my team as I prepare for Iditarod.

Space on the dog truck dictates that I must make my first ‘cut’ of the season to the main string before this trip. I know those of you that have been kind enough to sponsor dogs in our ‘Sponsor-a-dog’ program are keen to know who came along – I will say that this was the hardest cuts I’ve had to make and some really fine dogs got left in the yard at home (notably Striker, Rosie, Cassie, and Jumper) – but without further ado, here is the list of dogs that are currently in our ‘main string’:

NorthWapiti’s Super Grover – ‘Grover’
NorthWapiti’s Mr. Snuffleupagus – ‘Gus’
NorthWapiti’s Camilla
Ch. NorthWapiti’s Guy Smiley – ‘Smiley’
Ch. NorthWapiti’s Oreo
NorthWapiti’s Draco
NorthWapiti’s Orion the Hunter
NorthWapiti’s Sir Galahad – ‘Surge’
NorthWapiti’s Robert E. Lee – ‘Squeaky’
NorthWapiti’s Kobuk
NorthWapiti’s Denali
NorthWapiti’s Kluane
NorthWapiti’s Nahanni
Chuchinka’s Nikolai II – ‘Nik’
Chuchinka’s Pathfinder – ‘Chester’
Chuchinka’s San Antonio Rose – ‘Kaylinn’
NorthWapiti’s Valkyrie Kara
NorthWapiti’s Freya
NorthWapiti’ Oden
NorthWapiti’s Loki
Alaskan’s Olena of Anadyr
NorthWapiti’s Butch Cassidy
Ch. Kainai’s Anchorman – ‘Mannie’

I feel this is a very strong and solid group of dogs and so far, they are showing that out here. I’ve never had a team pulling as strong and consistently as this batch – especially this early in the season. That certainly has me excited about this coming winter! 

The weather in Minnesota has been good. We’ve been able to get out and run every day, which is terrific. The trails aren’t as muddy as normal, which is a mixed blessing – Jamie insists (and I tend to - reluctantly - agree with her) that nothing builds a team quite as well as learning to pull together through a mud hole – but it is nice not to come back from every run covered in muck!!! 

As always, things are buzzing out here - in addition to myself, Lynzie Bacchas, who is training for this year’s Jr. Iditarod is out. Lynzie is a neat 16 year old with a great amount of ‘dog sense’. I would think she is one to watch on the Jr. Iditarod trails this winter! 

This coming weekend is one of Jamie and Ann Stead’s Boot Camps (you can find out more about their Camps at www.mushingbootcamp.com). A number of the participants are repeat Boot Campers that are also friends of mine (including Lori Pedretti – our handler ‘extraordinaire’ from Beargrease last winter)– so I’m really looking forward to seeing them. 

Next weekend is ‘Buttonbox’ – a wonderful, by invitation only weekend that Jamie hosts each year at one of the local campgrounds. Lots of great experience for the dogs and a darn fun time for the humans!! Last year 50 some odd mushers and 397 dogs took over the campground!!
The weekend following that is Jamie’s annual run up to Big Falls – a 120-mile trip, broken up into a number of 20 and 30-mile runs. 

Then the last weekend I’m here is the 2nd Annual Big Dog Bash. It’s geared for Inuit dogs, Malamutes, Samoyeds, and the likes. Rounded off with Jamie’s Alaskan Husky team and my Siberians – it is truly a ‘multi cultural’ dog weekend. (If anyone with ‘Big Dogs’ reading this would like to join us – drop me an email and I will put you in touch with Scott and Terry Miller, who organize the event).

Well, I think that is about it for today. I will try to post some more entries in the next few days to let everyone know about other happenings over the past month!! 

Happy trails!